ACADEMIC KNOWLEDGE and training may only constitute half of what it takes to be an engineer in Hong Kong. An 'official blessing' from the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE) is the other part that marks an engineer as a professional in their field. The HKIE is the professional body for every type of engineer in the territory, and it co-ordinates the training and assessment that is required for professional status. Engineers across 18 separate disciplines - from biomedical engineering to marine and naval architecture - have to complete the three stages of the institution's Scheme A to qualify as one of its corporate members. To enter the scheme you must have a degree - normally in engineering - either from an HKIE-accredited university programme in Hong Kong or abroad, on a programme covered by the Washington Accord, an international accreditation agreement. The scheme is broadly the same across the 18 disciplines, with some minor variations. All students must complete a training position and then gain 'responsible' work experience in a job such as assistant engineer, for example. Training positions last two or three years, followed by one or two years respectively in the posting with responsibility. Training covers the development of the graduates' technical competence, management and communication skills, ethics and social awareness. The HKIE has agreements with 170 employers - ranging from manufacturing and logistics companies to contractors, consultants and government departments - who offer training positions and help run the scheme. Graduates have to secure their own training position with one of the employers, whose contact details are listed on the HKIE website. Once candidates have completed four years in the scheme, they have to submit an essay and then attend a 45-minute professional interview covering both their knowledge and professional practice. The number of training places available depends on the strength of the market. During the Sars crisis in Hong Kong, for example, the number of placements fell as private firms and public organisations suffered financial cut-backs. However, it has been slowly picking up and is now back to the pre-Sars level. MSc and MEng degrees in many engineering specialties are offered by a number of institutions: the Chinese University, City University, Polytechnic University, the University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. While a master's degree can often help a graduate find a better job by developing specialist knowledge, gaining the qualification does not mean that he or she is recognised as a professional engineer. Holding a relevant Master's degree can enable graduates whose first degrees were not accredited by the HKIE to enter Scheme A, with applicants considered on a case-by-case basis. A master's degree will normally reduce the qualifying period for engineers who did not take Scheme A by six months for a taught programme lasting one year full-time or two years' part-time, and by one year in the case of a two-year research programme. However, this will not affect the length of the training period for engineers taking Scheme A. Some trainees on the scheme have joined fast-track company programmes that often lead to management positions on gaining HKIE membership.